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Is There a New Generation of Real Housewives of New Jersey Stars on the Horizon?

Three new cast members offer an alternative to yet another round of Teresa versus Melissa.
  • Rachel Fuda, Danielle Cabral, and Jennifer Fessler in The Real Housewives of New Jersey (Photos: Andrew Eccles/Bravo)
    Rachel Fuda, Danielle Cabral, and Jennifer Fessler in The Real Housewives of New Jersey (Photos: Andrew Eccles/Bravo)

    The Real Housewives of New Jersey is dealing with a crisis of its own making. Well into its 13th season on Bravo, the series is ramping up to one of its most ballyhooed events, as star Teresa Giudice's lavish, big-haired wedding will finally make it to air. But story-wise, it's at one of its most stagnant points, with long-in-the-tooth storylines and stale feuds dominating the show. In the midst of all this, three new cast members are offering some hope that the show might be able to turn the corner into something new.

    This season, RHONJ added two new full-time cast members: a youth infusion consisting of Danielle Cabral, a 37-year-old mother of two and "brand ambassador" who is argumentative in all the ways we've come to expect from the Jersey Housewives, and Rachel Fuda, who's 32 and a mother of three kids, one of whom is friends with Melissa Gorga's son at school. The show has also added a "friend of the Housewives" in Jennifer Fessler, a levelheaded yet opinionated friend of Margaret Josephs.

    This cast update couldn't have come at a more opportune time. The current iteration of the RHONJ cast — in particular the nucleus of Teresa, Melissa, Margaret, Dolores Catania, and Jennifer Aydin — has been together for five seasons now, and some of their conflicts have been going for long before that. Melissa joined the show as a full-time cast member in Season 3, 12 full years ago, and her feud with sister-in-law Teresa has been going for exactly that long. It's a feud that's lasted throughout Teresa's marriage and imprisonment, has seen cast members like the Manzos and Kathy Wakile come and go, and has seen Teresa’s and Melissa's kids grow from from toddlers to, in Gia Giudice's case at least, participants in the bad blood.

    Bravo has been happy to keep this family feud front and center, making Joe Gorga an unofficial housewife himself. It's used the fact that Melissa and Joe weren't invited to Teresa's wedding to promote the new season. The one constant in all of Bravo's programming throughout the last dozen years has been these two women, their animosity towards one another, and their bone-deep distrust in each other's motives. That's never going to change. If these two women were capable of even pretending to reconcile their differences in front of the cameras long term, they would have, because it's the only logical place for this storyline to go. They haven't. They can't.

    The Teresa/Melissa feud isn't the only one that feels long in the tooth. Margaret and Jennifer have resumed their seasons-long animosity this season, having the same screaming fights at garden parties about Jen's lousy marriage and Margaret's past indiscretions. The other women seem exhausted by this feud's improbable ability to endure, so you can imagine how the audience feels.

    Into this environment of stagnant, repetitive bad feelings come Danielle and Rachel, the first new full-time cast members since Jen and Jackie Goldschneider joined the show in 2018, plus Jennifer Fessler as a featured "friend." All three have brought fresh air and fresh energy into a group that's been going stale for a while.

    "I think RHONJ really needed the new blood this season," says Housewives recapper and author of The Housewives: The Real Story Behind the Real Housewives, Brian Moylan. "The shows are always the most interesting when there are complex dynamics between the women. When there are sides it just becomes trench warfare."

    The star of the trio is Danielle, a blond, Staten Island-raised tough-talker who has thus far gotten on Margaret's bad side and seems to be ramping up to a conflict with fellow newbie Rachel. If nothing else, these feuds benefit from new faces, but Danielle has brought some personality to them as well. That personality verges on the ridiculous, but that's more than okay. A quick search of her web site sees Danielle touting herself as an "influencer, brand ambassador, philanthropist," and that brand is "The Boujie Mama" (along with its toddler-focused offshoot "Boujie Kidz."

    Rachel was brought in as a friend of Melissa's, which is normally a red flag. When one half of a major feud brings in a new cast member, there's often a mercenary air to them. Rachel's not particularly inclined towards Teresa, but she hasn't exactly been in attack dog mode. Similarly, Jennifer Fessler has been brought in as a friend of Margaret's, though she's managed to be fairly level-headed when it comes to Margaret's feud with Jen Aydin.

    Fans have been seeing the potential in these new women and the potential they hold for a future for the show that isn't beholden to the Guidice and Gorga dynamics. It just might take some fine tuning. "Danielle excited me the most at first with her big personality," says Daniel Calabrese, who covers the Housewives franchise on his podcast Come Through Queen. "But she's leaving the event at peak conflict one too many times."

    There's still the danger that the Teresa/Melissa story will end up swallowing up the potential of these new cast members. But hope springs eternal in the Jersey suburbs, and maybe we're seeing the next generation of Garden State stars. The dominant mood on the show for a while now has been weariness. Hopefully these new women can wake things up.

    The Real Housewives of New Jersey airs Tuesday nights at 9:00 PM ET on Bravo. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Real Housewives of New Jersey